Unforced variations: Mar 2014

This month’s open thread.

679 comments on this post.
  1. Kevin McKinney:

    Trying to avoid getting completely sucked into the more tedious back-and-forth that’s been going on lately, but still participating in some way, let me offer some thoughts on what a worthwhile ‘Plan To Avoid Climate Catastrophe’ ought to include.

    And in advance: sorry, but this is going to be wordier than I (and almost certainly you too, dear reader) would like.

    For me, #1 is action items. Yes, a strategic vision is important. But it very often happens that you do not, at the beginning of a planning process, know what the solutions to every necessary step ought to be. Ideally, you determine what the unknowns are, and that they are, in principle, feasibly solvable. (Hideous verbal formulation that, but you probably know what I mean.) You can then place the task of devising their solutions in the appropriate places in the ‘to-do’ list, and proceed with the task.

    However, you don’t always have even that luxury: it is not infrequently the case that problems cannot be determined to be solvable. What people do when this is the case–other than just giving up, which may be a good approach for some problems, but not, I think we all agree, for the problem of climate change–is to assume that the problem can be solved somehow, and to continue with the task in hand.

    As an example of the latter, consider the problem of trying to arrive at a workable solution for some very tough political conflict–say, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. There are points of irreducible conflict, which can likely never be ‘solved’ but which could potentially be ‘set aside’ if both parties had enough incentive to do that. So what diplomats have done is to define a ‘roadmap’ of the ‘peace process’ which gives structure to negotiations, and to begin with what are called ‘confidence building’ measures, where easier agreements can be made and then demonstrated to work in practice. This builds the psychological foundation for tackling the tougher challenges–including those for which no solution has yet been envisioned.

    It can work–though it hasn’t, so far, in the Middle East, unfortunately–at least, if we mean by ‘work’ the reaching of a final agreement.

    To my mind, we will be forced to use this kind of approach to the climate crisis. (Actually, that’s exactly the kind of approach that the Kyoto Accord took, in many ways–and yes, I share the disappointment with that process felt by most of those concerned with the crisis.) But there are simply too many unknowns to be able to plan a ‘clean’ through-strategy. We don’t know what we can do technologically; we don’t know what we can do economically; we don’t know what we can do institutionally; and we don’t know what we can do politically. Therefore there will have to be many points at which we adjust this or that along the way.

    For example, what will happen with the Kyoto process? Are we going to see an agreement that helps? Or will it become increasingly irrelevant with various multilateral initiatives supplanting it? Many jurisdictions are ahead of the global curve and are taking action at their level–think the BC carbon tax, the German energiewende, or the Connecticut Green Bank. There’s a lot going on that most of us never become aware of, despite the sharing of information here and elsewhere:


    And that brings up another point: that of who ‘we’ is. Most obviously, the blogosphere (not even RC!) is going to ‘solve the crisis.’ What happens in the real world is not going to be dictated by any one actor, leader, understanding, or agreement.

    If we want to be useful, we will think not of telling everybody else what to do–enjoyable though we might find that–but of sharing information and perspectives, advocating for policies we find to be promising, and educating folks who haven’t yet got this stuff on their radar screens. (And that’s a surprising number of folks, I think–in that sense even the denialists play a useful role as foil in the public space: they stimulate the debate, which provides seemingly unending opportunities to educate. Media loves that stuff…)

    But let’s include action points in the planning. It’s pointless and discouraging to say “Well, the good news is we know what to do, but the bad news is, we can’t possibly do it.” And it’s untrue, since what we can ‘possibly do’ remains very much to be determined.

  2. Kevin McKinney:

    As a terser codicil to my ramblings above: what I think Action Plan Point #1 ought to be right now is this:

    All of us should do everything in our power to encourage the increasing adoption of non-carbon power sources. I think that renewables are the closest thing to ‘the solution,’ but if Ed Greisch wants to forward me a petition in favor of making sure that the plant Vogtle nuclear expansion currently going on in my state is competed, I’ll gladly sign. (No nuclear vs renewable sniping.) That would also include institutional initiatives such as carbon taxes or permitting plans, policies of divestment from fossil fuel investments, direct political pressure, and the ending of fossil fuel subsidies around the world.

    If we can do the best possible job of de-carbonizing our energy economy, starting from where we are right now, we will then be a long way down the road to knowing just how much ‘self-sacrifice’ we need to invoke–and we will have avoiding increasing the amount needed for survival through gratuitous delay of the ‘action steps.’

  3. SecularAnimist:

    Recommended reading for anyone interested in the potential of organic agriculture and forestry to draw down the already dangerous anthropogenic excess of atmospheric CO2 by sequestering carbon in soil and biomass:

    Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight?
    By Judith D. Schwartz
    Yale Environment 360
    March 4 2014


    “… the world’s cultivated soils have lost between 50 and 70 percent of their original carbon stock, much of which has oxidized upon exposure to air to become CO2. Now, armed with rapidly expanding knowledge about carbon sequestration in soils, researchers are studying how land restoration programs in places like the former North American prairie, the North China Plain, and even the parched interior of Australia might help put carbon back into the soil …

    Many scientists say that regenerative agricultural practices can turn back the carbon clock, reducing atmospheric CO2 while also boosting soil productivity and increasing resilience to floods and drought. Such regenerative techniques include planting fields year-round in crops or other cover, and agroforestry that combines crops, trees, and animal husbandry.”

  4. Thomas:

    To put in perspective Secular Animists #149 figue of $1T per year. Current investment in fossil fuels is north of $600M per year. Our spending is already in the right ballpark, the problem is that so much is on the wrong things. Its not a matter of can renewables do the job, its a matter of can we muster the will required to make them do the job.

  5. SecularAnimist:

    Kevin McKinney wrote: “let me offer some thoughts on what a worthwhile ‘Plan To Avoid Climate Catastrophe’ ought to include …”

    The first thing that such a plan needs to do is to recognize that ending GHG emissions and drawing down the already dangerous excess of GHGs to preindustrial levels (350 ppm or less) requires not one, but MANY plans.

    Even looking only at US emissions, it is obvious that we need a multitude of plans to address multiple aspects of the problem.

    A reasonable place to start is to quantify the problem. A good place to start doing that is the EPA’s U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory, an annual report which is submitted to the United Nations in accordance with the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

    There you will see that emissions from fossil fuel combustion account for 78 percent (weighted for global warming potential, GWP) of US emissions in 2012 and that “The five major fuel consuming sectors contributing to CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion are electricity generation, transportation, industrial, residential, and commercial.”

    So there you have the broad map of where you need to look for opportunities to make large reductions very quickly. Each of those opportunities requires a specific, detailed plan if those deductions are to be realized.

    You will also find that “Electricity generators consumed 32 percent of total U.S. energy uses from fossil fuels and emitted 40 percent of the CO2 from fossil fuel combustion in 2012.”

    Electricity generation is dominated by coal, and consumes almost all the coal burned in the USA. And coal produces disproportionately large emissions even compared to other fossil fuels. So clearly, coal-fired electricity generation is a HUGE part of the problem, and the task of eliminating coal requires multiple plans in and of itself.

    Likewise, you will find that “transportation activities accounted for 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012” with the largest sources being “passenger cars (43.2 percent), light duty trucks, which include sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans (18.1 percent), freight trucks (22.2 percent), rail (2.6 percent), and commercial aircraft (6.3 percent)”.

    Transportation is of course dominated by oil, and eliminating — even significantly reducing — oil consumption by the USA’s vast fleet of a quarter billion passenger vehicles requires a whole host of entirely different plans from those involved in eliminating coal.

    And then there are many more plans needed to address emissions at the level of what EPA calls the “end-use sectors” of industrial, residential and commercial fossil fuel use.

    There is a lot of work being done out there in the real world beyond the blogs, to research and develop and enact and implement all these types of plans, for specific emissions sectors, at all levels from residential to corporate to municipal to state to national.

    Recognizing that this is a climate science blog rather than a mitigation-energy-emissions-reduction blog, I appreciate the moderators’ indulgence in allowing occasional links to informative articles about that work.


    Pk #148,

    “Diogenes, as much as i welcome strong messaging,Guy McPherson lost his credibility with his fatalistic one way messaging of unpreventable doom.”

    Believe me, I understand McPherson’s credibility issues, and have commented on them myself. Nevertheless, he made one point about losing ~half the phytoplankton that I was able to verify (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v466/n7306/abs/nature09268.html). Then, he made the projections about losing sea and land sources when we hit ~3.5 C, which he did not reference and I was not able to verify. I know you are familiar with the full-spectrum climate change literature, and thought you may have run across relevant articles.

  7. prokaryotes:

    Diogenes, when the study was published in 2010 Joe Romm covered it, i just googled and there was a recent follow up

    The impact of temperature on marine phytoplankton resource allocation and metabolism http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v3/n11/full/nclimate1989.html doi:10.1038/nclimate1989

    A subsequent news release

    One effect of the warming of the oceans will be to depress the growth of plankton, with consequences for fish and other species that depend on it. http://www.climatenewsnetwork.net/2013/09/plankton-will-suffer-as-oceans-warm/

    Joe Romm covered another related study in january http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/01/02/3113101/climate-change-starve-deep-sea/
    Study paper: Global reductions in seafloor biomass in response to climate change – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.12480/abstract (OA)

    In regards to Oxygen, Scripps Institution Of Oceanography is tracking and observing a decline trend, (though marginal but it hints to increased CO2 sequestration – atmospheric reactions and could mean more.

    This is all very worrying but it is certainly not to late to change these developments. And even if we choose not to change anything, the timescales alleged by McPherson are not scientific .

  8. Meow:

    @135: [quote]A British geologist & TV nature show host said (~ 2009) that we’re now burning 3 million years worth of paleo-historic fossil (or it might have been oil only) production per year…. Does this sound right for either all fossil, or simply oil paleo-production/present consumption rates?[/quote]
    I was going to say that you might indirectly estimate this quantity by considering how long a pulse of CO2 persists in the atmosphere. But then I read IPCC FAR WG1 s.1.2.1, which includes this stunning nugget:
    [quote}The concentration [of CO2 following a pulse] will actually never return to its original value, but reach a new equilibrium level, about 15 percent of the total amount of CO2 emitted will remain in the atmosphere.[/quote]
    This doesn’t seem correct — we have had snowball-earth interludes, possibly caused by long-term weathering drawdowns of CO2 (see, e.g., Pierrehumbert, “Principles of Planetary Climate”, at pp.43-45) — but I think someone more qualified than myself should speak to that question.

    That said, if you could determine N such that CO2 levels following a single year’s current emissions declined to radiative insignificance following N years, perhaps we could be said to be burning N years of fossil carbon per year.

    Perhaps someone with paleo-biological knowledge has an answer based upon fossil fuels’ formation rate.

  9. MARodger:

    Meow @158.
    The longevity of a residual but significant % of a CO2 pulse released into the atmosphere has been described as lasting essentially “forever” by Archer (2005) The actual quote is ‘A better approximation of the lifetime of fossil fuel CO2 for public discussion might be “300 years, plus 25% that lasts forever.”‘
    This site is not given to such restrictions as occur within ‘public discussion’ so perhaps the relevant quote from Archer et al (2009) would be better suited:- “Nowhere in these model results or in the published literature is there any reason to conclude that the effects of CO2 release will be substantially confined to just a few centuries. In contrast, generally accepted modern understanding of the global carbon cycle indicates that climate effects ofCO2 releases to the atmosphere will persist for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years into the future.”
    I would suggest that on a scale relevant to human civilisation, tens of thousands of years is effectively “forever”.

  10. Steve Fish:

    Re- Comment by SecularAnimist — 9 Mar 2014 @ 1:15 PM, ~#153

    Let’s not forget forests. The older a forest is and the bigger the trees, both carbon sequestration rate and total amount increases. http://andrewsforest.oregonstate.edu/pubs/pdf/pub4835.pdf

    There is an industry promoted assumption that younger forests and trees sequester more carbon but they don’t. They also claim that cutting the forest sequesters carbon because of new tree growth, but this is really, really false.

    Those of us who are carbon ranchers (git along little dogies, yi-ha!) protect (hug) our big trees. Steve

  11. Steve Fish:

    Re- Comment by Kevin McKinney — 9 Mar 2014 @ 12:44 PM and @ 12:57 PM, ~#151 and #152

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Terse is good. You mentioned the self-sacrifice issue and this is something I am interested in. I have already related our comfortable life living on 900 watts of PV solar (producing approximately 20% used by the average household) for ~7 years, and now with the PV system doubled I live in the lap of luxury. From my real world experience there is no sacrifice required from switching to renewable electricity.

    There are those who think of the overindulgence of developed nations, especially the US, as a sort of addiction or slothful behavior, but this notion dodges an important reality. I think that this so-called demand is manufactured by standard business practices. Although some of this involves advertising the next new product, I think it is mostly driven, and sustained, by the silent and insidious effects of planned obsolescence. I am not going to write a thesis about this because there is an excellent video documentary that explains the problem well in an entertaining and well documented format. I have posted this previously but here it is again. The piece is getting a little old because it is centered on the old incandescent light bulb but it is factual and there is much more on other products. It starts with a guy whose printer fails and ends with what he found out about this and how he fixed it. If the following doesn’t link properly search for The Light Bulb Conspiracy on YouTube.



    Kevin McKinney #151-152,

    “All of us should do everything in our power to encourage the increasing adoption of non-carbon power sources. I think that renewables are the closest thing to ‘the solution,’…..If we can do the best possible job of de-carbonizing our energy economy, starting from where we are right now, we will then be a long way down the road to knowing just how much ‘self-sacrifice’ we need to invoke–and we will have avoiding increasing the amount needed for survival through gratuitous delay of the ‘action steps.’”

    This is not a plan to avoid the climate Apocalypse, but rather a Declaration of Surrender. All you are doing is negotiating the Date of Execution!

    The first step in any plan is to set the requirements/targets. Then actions/policies that make sense can follow. This is a climate science blog; one would expect the best of modern climate science would be used in establishing the requirements/targets. The desirable target from modern climate science is ~1 C, as Hansen (and others) have stated. The 2 C target is a political target, not a scientific one. Even for this unacceptable level of 2 C, as Spratt points out: “As the graph shows, based on a chart from Mike Raupach at the ANU, at a 66% probability of not exceeding 2C, the carbon emissions budget remaining is around 250 petagrams (PtG or billion tonnes) of CO2. However this “carbon budget” also has A 17% CHANCE OF EXCEEDING 2.5C AND AN 8% CHANCE OF EXCEEDING 3C, which is clearly a risk we would be mad to accept. If one wants a 90% chance of not exceeding 2C, there is NO “carbon budget” left (blue circle). From this point of view, it is time to “Re-do the maths” that Bill McKibben popularised in his Rolling Stone article.”

    At best, there is no carbon budget left, and at worst (depending on the temperature target selected), we have run up substantial carbon debt. So, we won’t have the luxury of being, in your words “a long way down the road to knowing just how much ‘self-sacrifice’ we need to invoke–and we will have avoiding increasing the amount needed for survival through gratuitous delay of the ‘action steps.” We are out of carbon budget; EVERY expenditure of fossil fuel from now on increases our carbon debt, and reduces our chances of avoiding the climate Apocalypse. That’s why severe fossil fuel demand reduction is not a nice-to-have; it is a hard requirement if we are to have any chance of avoiding the climate Apocalypse.

  13. Kevin McKinney:

    #161–Thanks, Steve.

    I agree with you about the planned obsolescence (though I suspect, based on pure hunch, that it isn’t always entirely planned these days, but is sometimes emergent from ‘the way we do things.’) There was even a bit of a conversation about it here, with a bit of BOTE calculation, based mostly on automobiles and the embodied emissions associated therewith. This topic connects with the question of a zero-[energy]-growth economy, which we ultimately need to be truly sustainable–and which humanity really has apparently only barely begun to think about.

    It’s tough socially and politically because without growth, economic gain or loss becomes a zero sum thing, and questions of equity become extremely pointed indeed. (Kyoto, again, anyone?)

    On another note, Steve, I wonder if you’d be willing to offer some practical pointers (offline, since it would be off-topic) from your experience? It’s not a theoretical question; our household is planning a move within the next couple of years, and de-carbonizing our lifestyle is a significant priority for us. If you care to, you can contact me via my website:


  14. Hank Roberts:

    > 133 … link
    Somehow three invisible html characters got into the link, compare what I typed on the page, the clickable text, with what shows up in the browser navigation bar where they show up as stuff with percent signs. Damfino wothappenthere.
    Trying again, the link is: http://www.catb.org/esr/faqs/smart-questions.html

  15. Hank Roberts:

    > Steve, I wonder if you’d be willing to offer some practical
    > pointers (offline, since it would be off-topic)
    Please, if you do, I’d appreciate an invitation.

  16. SecularAnimist:

    Recommended reading — an example of the economic benefits of demand reduction:

    Hospital Energy Managers: Six Steps For Major Energy Savings Via HVAC & Central Plant Peak Performance
    By Manny Rosendo
    March 10 2014


    According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), healthcare organizations spend nearly $8.8 billion annually on energy to meet patient needs. In a typical hospital, the biggest consumer of electrical power is the HVAC system, accounting for as much as 42% of total usage. The HVAC system and chiller plant alone can push a hospital’s electric bills close to over a million dollars a year.

    With the right peak performance strategy and technologies, it is possible to cut HVAC and central plant energy use by as much as 40%. As case in point, one of the nation’s largest public healthcare systems, Broward Health Medical Center (BHMC), registered savings of $311,000 in just one year, including more than $30,000 in a single month. This was possible after implementing advanced analytics and data science, providing visibility and transparency into the performance and service of its HVAC system and 6,000-ton chiller plant.

    Opportunities abound for major cost savings from major reductions in demand for fossil fuels.

  17. Hank Roberts:

    Graphic and appalling

  18. SecularAnimist:

    Recommended reading:

    Meat Makes the Planet Thirsty
    By James McWilliams
    The New York Times
    March 7 2014


    With California producing nearly half of the fruit and vegetables grown in the United States, attention has naturally focused on the water required to grow popular foods such as walnuts, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, almonds and grapes … But for those truly interested in lowering their water footprint, those numbers pale next to the water required to fatten livestock

    … in the case of agriculture and drought, there’s a clear and accessible action most citizens can take: reducing or, ideally, eliminating the consumption of animal products. Changing one’s diet to replace 50 percent of animal products with edible plants like legumes, nuts and tubers results in a 30 percent reduction in an individual’s food-related water footprint. Going vegetarian, a better option in many respects, reduces that water footprint by almost 60 percent.

  19. Eric Swanson:

    DIOGENES #162 (and posts) – The first step isn’t formulating a plan as any plan is going to be doomed from the start unless the public will accept it. Thus, I think the first step is to convince the public that there’s a problem which must be addressed. At the moment in the US, polling data suggests that the public’s opinion has built up against AGW as an important problem, this being the result of decades of efforts by the denialist camp. So, until you (we) get out the door and start talking to Joe SixPack face-to-face, I think things are just going to slide downhill on the Business-As-Usual slope.

    Hey, for what it’s worth, I have a plan. Lets ration fossil fuels! None of that Cap-and-Trade mess, which would hit the public as an increase in price and would line the pockets of the traders who would end up gaming the system (as they always try to do). Start small, perhaps gasoline rationing, giving all adults an equal allocation each month, perhaps half that presently used. Allow trading of those allocations and the purchase of additional allocations thru a national white market. The other portion of the allocations would be sold into the market at the current price and business interests, which wouldn’t have an allocation, would then purchase that which they need from the market. Over time, reduce the total allocation, thus signaling to all that there will be less available in future, which would tend to increase the price in the market. Add other carbon sources, like coal for electric generation. Allocations would need an expiration date, at which time the allocations would converted to cash at the prevailing market price, which would prevent hoarding and (hopefully) minimize the incentive to game the market. Individuals or businesses could still purchase physical product, such as heating oil or propane, and store it for later use, but this would involve the purchase of additional allocations from the market.

    Such a system would reward those who consume less than the average and signal to business that they need to invest in conservation measures. I think this incentive would work very differently from a carbon tax, such as promoted by James Hansen. That’s because the carbon tax would need to increase rapidly to achieve a desired reduction and the price increases from the tax would ripple thru the economy and blunt the effectiveness of the tax over several years. Remember that we’ve all experienced the effects of a major price increase for oil, which was around $25 a barrel, but has now pushed to around $100 a barrel, or 4 times the previous price. The result is the US is again experiencing growth in gasoline consumption at a few percent a year. A carbon tax would need to increase faster than overall inflation, if it were to maintain it’s effectiveness, a situation which is a positive feedback and which would be a danger both to the economy and to further tax increases. I think that Dr. Hansen’s proposed rebate would further erode the effectiveness of the tax.

    So, there’s a rough idea of my plan. All that’s needed is for the elected government to adopt it, which has essentially no chance in Hell, given the current political situation. Have you got a plan which has any better chance of passing in the US House or next year’s US Senate?

  20. Kevin McKinney:

    Dio, you are repeating yourself. And it’s no more convincing this time around.

    If anything amounts to ‘surrender,’ it’s a ‘plan’ own creator says “can’t be sold.”

  21. Steve Fish:

    Re- Comment by Kevin McKinney — 10 Mar 2014 @ 8:23 AM, ~#163

    I think that planned obsolescence has become so imbedded in business models and engineering software that it is invisible. The growth problem is a very difficult one, but one Idea I have heard is to somehow switch growth from energy consuming products to such things as knowledge, creative activities, entertainment (the U.S. is way out in front in the movie biz), computer software, and craftsmanship where actual human effort, not stuff, is valued. This is a tough nut to crack.

    I sent an email regarding solar living. Steve

  22. biolaw:

    I agree with many of you who have posted as it pertains to doing all we can to reduce carbon emission. However, our politics backed by corporate greed is what we are allowing to dig a deeper whole for us. As for fertilizing the ocean in addition to some of the other strategies discussed, leaves me very skeptical regarding the possible negative side effects. Forgive me for being so straightforward, but in some cases, our selfish lifestyles will be very difficult change. What gives me hope in regards to reducing carbon emission is that there is a 37% increase in public transportation ridership. I take the subway and commuter rail often. What is equally discouraging is that in one of our most populous states, Florida, (Florida which will soon be our 3rd most populous state)the governor has played politics by rejecting rail projects funded by the federal government (Sunrail and a high speed rail project) simply because President Obama suggested an increase in rail projects. The traffic in Florida is horrendous and gets worse during the spring and summer months (it’s actually horrible year round).

    The energy companies in addition to automotive manufacturers could greatly assist in controlling carbon emissions, but I have no confidence that many of them will take the initiative without being forced (if forced you will hear all the communism, job killing regulation rhetoric). Globally, we are going to have to force the change before we’re forced to take drastic measures which may render ineffective and even more damaging such as geoengineering.

  23. Hank Roberts:

    Gavin, from the link Kevin provided, your mark — “45ºC on a regular basis” — isn’t the threshold for worry. India’s wheat crop is already hitting temperature limits, because it’s a few hot days or nights — not the average but the extremes — that cut final crop yield drastically.

    That’s hit midwest US corn and soy too, in recent summers.

    Hot spells — not the average — is the worry.

    There are critical periods during fetal development for plant seeds just like for animals when exposure to something adverse has bad results — before or after the critical point, no worry.

    I know a lot of work is going into heat stress tolerance for crops.

    A lot of hungry animals will be going after any such heat-tolerant crop plants, as wildland yields get impacted by climate.

  24. OnceJolly:

    #160 – Steve Fish

    I’d be careful how I interpret that paper. The authors note:

    “We highlight the fact that increasing individual tree growth rate does not automatically result in increasing stand productivity because tree mortality can drive orders-of-magnitude reductions in population density. That is, even though the large trees in older, even-aged stands may be growing more rapidly, such stands have fewer trees. Tree population dynamics, especially mortality, can thus be a significant contributor to declining productivity at the scale of the forest stand.” – page 3

  25. Hank Roberts:

    In other news,
    more reasons to leave the trees alone:

    Montane forest root growth and soil organic layer depth as potential factors stabilizing Cenozoic global change (pages 983–990)

    Christopher E. Doughty, Lyla L. Taylor, Cecile A. J. Girardin, Yadvinder Malhi and David J. Beerling

    Article first published online: 6 FEB 2014
    DOI: 10.1002/2013GL058737
    key points:
    Weathering rates decrease at elevation partially due to a thick soil organic layer
    If global climate is perturbed, montane ecosystems may buffer perturbations
    We show two tectonic events when this may have occurred


    see e.g.

  26. prokaryotes:

    James Hansen: World’s Greatest Crime Against Humanity And Nature

  27. prokaryotes:

    Re Hank, “..more reasons to leave the trees alone”

    That won’t be easy with climate disruption, things we set in motion.

    “…recorded wind speeds topped 108mph and it is estimated by the Forestry Commission that up to 30 million trees may have been blown down.” — http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/plants/trees/10683870/Storms-and-floods-have-your-trees-been-damaged.html

  28. Hank Roberts:

    PS — ‘oogle “virgin+forest”+”even-aged”

    (Watch out for logging, then planting and leaving a tree farm to grow old, even-aged, and claiming carbon credit — a bogus tactic; you don’t get back what was lost, neither in carbon capture as plants nor in topsoil.)

  29. OnceJolly:

    #168 – SecularAnimist

    James McWilliams is one of those commentators that is seemingly incapable of reporting on the environmental implications of meat-eating without letting his vegan advocacy color his faculty for critical thinking. Here we find him claiming that “based on IPCC AR4 guidelines, the Livestock sector is responsible for at least 51% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, as Goodland and Anhang have calculated.” However, as Gavin has pointed out elsewhere, respiration is not included according to the guidelines. (G&A are also inconsistent on a number of fronts, including applying the 20-year GWP for methane to livestock but using the 100-year GWP for other anthropogenic methane emissions, and making an adjustment to emissions figures for the year 2000 to account for increases in livestock tonnage between 2002 and 2009, but not making similar adjustments for rising fossil fuel consumption over the same time).

    In the Times articles, McWilliams advocates “replac[ing] 50 percent of animal products with edible plants like legumes, nuts and tubers,” without mentioning that in the cited paper (Table 3), the protein yield of chicken (per kg of water) exceeds that of nuts, while the calorie yield is only marginally worse. Of course, the problem for a vegan pushing the environmental case against meat (to which there are certainly a number of valid arguments) is that from an animal welfare case, the middle-ground (replacing beef with chicken) is probably worse.

  30. Hank Roberts:

    ‘oogle finds a debunking of that McWilliams story, with references, here:


    In other news:

    reports two surprises:

    there has been no increase in the number of tropical cyclones and that much of the perceived change in numbers is a result of improved storm detection methods. “From 1940, there was a huge increase in observations because of aerial reconnaissance and satellite imagery,” she says.
    The big surprise came when Fitchett and Grab looked at where storms have been happening. As the oceans have warmed and the minimum sea surface temperature necessary for a cyclone to occur (26.5 degrees Celsius) has been moving further south, storms in the south-west Indian Ocean have been moving further south too.

    This is not what we expected from climate change. We thought tropical cyclones might increase in number but we never expected them to move.


    while global warming is causing the fruit trees to flower as much as a month earlier than 50 years ago, which is a very rapid shift, changes in late season frost are not happening nearly as quickly.
    Before 1988 there were zero to three days between peak flowering and the last day of frost in Kerman, Iran; since then, the number has increased to zero to 15.

    “The layman’s assumption is that as temperatures get warmer, there will be less frost. But although the severity of the frost has decreased, the last day of frost hasn’t been receding as quickly as the advances in flowering. The result is that frost events are increasingly taking place during flowering and damaging the flowers. No flowers equals no fruit,'” says Fitchett.
    According to the study, at current rates, it will take only 70 years before it becomes a certainty that frost will occur during peak flowering in Kerman. Already, since 1988, frost has occurred during peak flowering in 41% of the years.


    Eric Swanson #169,

    “The first step isn’t formulating a plan as any plan is going to be doomed from the start unless the public will accept it. Thus, I think the first step is to convince the public that there’s a problem which must be addressed.”

    The purpose of my plan was to understand/identify what targets and actions/policies are required if we are to have any chance of avoiding the climate Apocalypse. I have done that to my satisfaction, and the resulting product is the only plan on any of the climate blogs that, if implemented, would allow the worst of the climate Apocalypse to be avoided. Functionally, I view it as a baseline against which I can evaluate the performance of other self-styled viable plans, similar to the way the Carnot Efficiency is used to gauge engine performance.

    My plan has a number of key tenets. First, the interim temperature ceiling cannot go much above 1 C if we want to minimize the chances of over-triggering the carbon feedbacks. Second, to get anywhere near the required temperature ceilings, we have not only run out of carbon budget, but have run up considerable carbon debt already. This means that ANY fossil fuel expenditures from here on out must be minimized severely. Third, the most important element in the plan is elimination of all non-essential fossil fuel expenditures as soon as possible, in parallel with increasing the efficiency of the supply of the essential expenditures. Fourth, we need to institute a massive effort to draw down the present CO2 in the atmosphere as soon as possible. Fifth, we need to phase out fossil sources for the essential energy expenditures and replace them with low/zero carbon sources, in parallel with increasing the efficiency of these myriad sources. Any proposed ‘plan’ that does not contain ALL these elements, in roughly the priority order presented, will probably not get us where we want to go, but each proposed plan in its entirety needs to be compared to my plan overall to gauge its merits.

    The fragmented actions that constitute the typical post are not ‘plans’, and unless they are presented in the context of other required actions to achieve a stated target, should not be viewed as plans. In many/most cases, they are no more than unpaid advertisements.

  32. SecularAnimist:

    OnceJolly wrote: “In the Times articles, McWilliams advocates “replac[ing] 50 percent of animal products with edible plants like legumes, nuts and tubers,” without mentioning that in the cited paper (Table 3), the protein yield of chicken (per kg of water) exceeds that of nuts, while the calorie yield is only marginally worse.”

    Thank you for the followup. Yes, McWilliams clearly states near the beginning of his article that “some nuts, namely almonds, consume considerable blue water, even more than beef”.

    Interesting, though, that you singled out “nuts” while ignoring “legumes and tubers” which are the major vegetarian sources of protein and calories.

    Is nut-picking something like cherry-picking?

    The cited paper you linked to is “A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products” by Mekonnen and Hoekstra, published in the journal Ecosystems in January 2012. Here’s the abstract (emphasis and paragraph breaks added):

    The increase in the consumption of animal products is likely to put further pressure on the world’s freshwater resources. This paper provides a comprehensive account of the water footprint of animal products, considering different production systems and feed composition per animal type and country.

    Nearly one-third of the total water footprint of agriculture in the world is related to the production of animal products. The water footprint of any animal product is larger than the water footprint of crop products with equivalent nutritional value. The average water footprint per calorie for beef is 20 times larger than for cereals and starchy roots. The water footprint per gram of protein for milk, eggs and chicken meat is 1.5 times larger than for pulses. The unfavorable feed conversion efficiency for animal products is largely responsible for the relatively large water footprint of animal products compared to the crop products.

    Animal products from industrial systems generally consume and pollute more ground- and surface-water resources than animal products from grazing or mixed systems. The rising global meat consumption and the intensification of animal production systems will put further pressure on the global freshwater resources in the coming decades.

    The study shows that from a freshwater perspective, animal products from grazing systems have a smaller blue and grey water footprint than products from industrial systems, and that it is more water-efficient to obtain calories, protein and fat through crop products than animal products.

    I think that paper strongly supports McWilliams’ contention that “in the case of agriculture and drought, there’s a clear and accessible action most citizens can take: reducing or, ideally, eliminating the consumption of animal products.”

  33. Steve Fish:

    Re- Comment by OnceJolly — 10 Mar 2014 @ 4:51 PM, ~#174

    Thanks for your caution, but I believe you have misinterpreted what the authors are saying relative to my expressed concerns. Their use of the word “productivity” refers to mass gain for a tree or a forest. Because tree mass consists largely of CO2 that was removed from the atmosphere, a recovering forest might have high productivity but low total mass. In contrast a tree in a climax forest may be very productive but the forest is in a steady state with no net productivity. Most important is that a climax forest represents the maximum amount of carbon that can be stored by the forest.

    So, if one is concerned about using forests as atmospheric carbon capture machines they should be allowed to grow to steady state and then left alone. As soon as any tree, especially the most profitable large ones, is harvested the carbon it contains is released back into the atmosphere very quickly and will not be removed again until the same amount of tree mass regrows. This would be a net loss in terms of global warming.


  34. Chris Dudley:

    Andy Revkin has been channeling deniers with extra enthusiasm lately. This comment urges that climate mitigation has no effect on avoiding extreme weather events associated with climate change:

    “Your argument only holds up if her call is for action to limit impacts from extreme climate events. Here’s another line of logic that I failed to include: There’s no evidence that even super aggressive action on curbing emissions would meaningfully tweak patterns of extreme weather in the lifetime of anyone reading this blog. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mitigate emissions; we should. But don’t claim that this will meaningfully blunt the losses in hazard zones on time scales relevant to policymakers or taxpayers (especially in poorer countries).”


    Does anyone happen to recognize this phrasing from one of the soft-denial sites?


  35. Hank Roberts:

    no evidence that … curbing emissions would meaningfully tweak patterns of extreme weather in the lifetime of anyone reading this blog.

    Wait, business as usual already tweaked patterns of extreme weather.
    What idea is he trying to argue there?

  36. Chris Dudley:


    He is saying that mitigation won’t keep extreme weather caused by a failure to mitigate from killing people.

    Is this Breakthrough Institute codswallop?

  37. Kevin McKinney:

    #184-5–Well, mitigation isn’t going to have a strong effect for a couple of decades, right? Time lags to equilibrium, and all that. Though personally, I’d really like it better if timescales of a couple of decades were generally considered “relevant to policymakers or taxpayers.”

  38. Tony Weddle:

    Before thinking that vegetarianism is some kind of answer, I’d recommend reading “The Vegetarian Myth” by Lierre Keith, a vegan for 20 years before letting various pieces of knowledge about vegetarianism percolate her conscious.

  39. Chris Dudley:


    Mitigation takes effect immediately. End emissions and you avoid all the extremes that BAU would cause.

  40. David MacKay:

    Is there going to be a Realclimate discussion of “Inhomogeneous forcing and transient climate sensitivity”
    by Drew T. Shindell
    , and how this affects the expert assessment of Otto et al and other energy balance papers?

    Thank you very much!

  41. prokaryotes:

    The estimate of 40 years for climate lag, the time between the cause (increased greenhouse gas emissions) and the effect (increased temperatures), has profound negative consequences for humanity. However, if governments can find the will to act, there are positive consequences as well.

    With 40 years between cause and effect, it means that average temperatures of the last decade are a result of what we were thoughtlessly putting into the air in the 1960’s. It also means that the true impact of our emissions over the last decade will not be felt until the 2040’s. This thought should send a chill down your spine!


    Prokaryotes #176,

    Your post contains a presentation by Hansen that includes a comparison between nuclear and solar, emphasizing the benefits of nuclear for the applications discussed. Not exactly the Solar Industry’s scripted talking points that are parroted incessantly by our resident Windfall proponents. Some excerpts follow.

    “R&D on advanced technologies, including thorium reactors with the potential to ameliorate remaining concerns about nuclear power, was stifled, seemingly because it was too promising. Powerful anti – nuclear forces had their way with the Democratic Party. “Green” organizations had indoctrinated themselves in anti – nuclear fervor, and their intransigence blinded them to the fact that they were nearly eliminating the one option for abundant clean electricity with inexhaustible fuel and a small planetary footprint.”

    “None of the developing nations and none of our descendants had any voice in the decision. I cannot blame President Clinton. We scientists should have made clearer that there is a limited “carbon budget” for the world, i.e., a limit on the amount of fossil fuels that could be burned without assuring disastrous future consequences. We should have made clear that diffuse renewables can not satisfy energy needs of countries such as China and India.”

    “We also should not expect China to use renewable energy for base – load electricity. We just completed a solar power plant, Ivanpah, near the Nevada – California border on public land provided free. Ivanpah cost $2.2B and it covers five square miles (about 13 square kilometers). With a generous estimate of 0.25 for the plant’s capacity factor (the ratio of average power to peak power when the sun is highest and the sky is clear), Ivanpah will generate 0.82 TWhours of electricity per year. The power is intermittent because Ivanpah does not have energy storage, which would make the plant far more expensive. In contrast, Westinghouse is nearing completion of two AP – 1000 nuclear plants in China. These nuclear facilities each require about 0.5 square miles (about 1.3 square kilometers).

    With a capacity factor of 0.9, typical of nuclear power plants, the output of each plant will be 8.8 TW hours per year. It would require more than 10 Ivanpahs to yield as much electricity and an area of more than 50 square miles (128 square kilometers), area that China does not have to spare. The AP – 1000 cost in China is about $3.5B per plant What the United States should do is cooperate with China and assist in its nuclear development. The AP – 1000 is a fine nuclear power plant, incorporating several important safety improvements over existing plants in the United States, which already have an excellent safety record.”

  43. Kevin McKinney:

    #192–Please do not restart the renewable vs. nuclear sniping. It is counterproductive and foolish, and has repeatedly derailed discussion.

  44. prokaryotes:

    Diogenes, if you would like to discuss the CS article with me, reply to the CS article instead of here, thanks.

  45. Chris Dudley:

    Prokaryotes (#191),

    Be a little careful. Your link aims for stabilization. Stabilizing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at the current 400 ppm requires more emissions. So, the future rise in temperature is dependent on future emissions, not so much on past emissions. Ending emissions starts a decrease in atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, and within five years or so, an end to land surface temperature increase. The oceans take longer to stop warming but because of the ongoing reduction in forcing, the global average temperature reaches its maximum in not much more than a decade.

    While some stabilization targets are out of reach without intentional sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere, 280 ppm, for example, some targets below the current 400 ppm still require more emissions to get to stabilization. 350 ppm is an example. Without future emissions (ending emissions now) we end up around 330 or 320 ppm if I recall correctly.

  46. wili:

    I would like to second the suggestion at #190 for a thread devoted to a discussion of the new Shindell paper…or should we just launch into one here?

    Chris Dudley, do you have some links to support your figures at #195? They look a bit out of date (or just wrong) from what I understand the situation to be.

  47. Kevin McKinney:

    #195–“Ending emissions starts a decrease in atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, and within five years or so, an end to land surface temperature increase.”

    Right, but that’s a theoretical possibility only. Even RCP 2.6, which is widely regarded as too optimistic to be probable, sees increases for the end of the century between (IIRC, but I just looked at it) of .3-1.7 C.

  48. Kevin McKinney:

    On a procedural note, it appears that the Recaptcha issues that have somewhat impeded commenting for me lately have been resolved, either by the RC updates or by the OS update I did yesterday.


  49. Chris Dudley:

    wili (#196),

    The future emissions required to achieve stabilization are exterminated from an IDL script I posted here a while back. The timing comes from inverting the step function thermal response that Hansen et al. used for their Greens Function approach to model simplification.

    It should be obvious though that stabilization does require future emissions to achieve. The oceans are out of equilibrium with the atmosphere in carbon dioxide partial pressure so ending emissions means equilibration will draw down the atmospheric concentration. To support that concentration at a stabilization target requires emissions to counter the leakage to the oceans.

  50. SecularAnimist:

    Recommended reading …

    Energy: Islands of light
    By Jeff Tollefson
    11 March 2014


    … Around the world, nearly 1.3 billion people live without access to electricity, many of them far from the ever-expanding electric grid.

    The quest is on to find the best way to bring clean power to rural areas. Mixing local development work with Silicon-Valley-style entrepreneurship, engineers, scientists and economists are setting up independent ‘microgrids’ that can be deployed quickly and cheaply one community at a time. Those leading such electrification schemes aim to create small-scale renewable-energy systems, building an archipelago of light across the developing world and helping remote communities to kick their dependence on fossil fuels.

    Such efforts have often failed in the past, as subsidies lapsed or infrastructure collapsed. But today’s entrepreneurs are better placed to succeed. A new generation of cheaper photovoltaic panels and wind turbines can be managed with simple smart-grid devices. The price of fossil fuels has soared over the past decade, making renewable energy more competitive. And the United Nations has set a goal of achieving universal access to electricity by 2030, providing political impetus.